When I talk to my son, I try not to give him stereotypical parent-speak in reply to his questions. My hope is that he will learn to put thought into his words rather than repeat the things he hears most often, just to keep his voice prominent in conversations. This is the goal, but sometimes it is difficult to avoid backsliding. Sometimes, I find myself uttering phrases to him that are so hackneyed they could have been written in Hollywood.
We had a few people visiting our house. They were all unmarried, young adults. Our guests discussed among themselves the topic of whom they each were, or were not, dating. Since my son and I had little to add, we played while the grown-ups were talking. I didn’t think my son was paying any attention to the discussion, which means he drank in every word of it.
The next day, we had to drop my wife off at the home of one of our erstwhile visitors. After my wife exited the car, my son asked me, “Who lives here?”
“Remember the blonde-haired lady who was at our house yesterday?”
“Oh. That’s Jill?” There was short pause, followed by, “Daddy, do you think I should date her?”
After picking my jaw out of my lap and replacing it onto my face, I told him, “No.”
This was my fatherly moment of truth. I could have used it to have an intelligent discussion with my son. I might even have taught him something. Let’s examine the options.
Intelligent thing #1 I could have said, but didn’t:
“Do you know what it means to date someone?”
This might have produced a meaningful discussion about relationships. Once he learned that dating has been known to lead to kissing, he would have thrown himself into reverse.
Intelligent thing #2 I could have said, but didn’t:
“Because four-year-olds, even if they are four-and-a-half, don’t date anyone.”
This would have allowed me to explain that, at his age, playing in the dirt is so much more fun than dating would be. Moreover, even as an adult, he would have dates when he wished he could just walk out and go fling himself into a dirt hole.
And the winner is . . . . .
Trite thing I blurted out without thinking:
“Because she’s old enough to be your mother.”
Every grown woman on Earth is old enough to be his mother. That doesn’t concern him because the boy has no idea what age has to do with dating. He doesn’t know the difference between dating and saying hello. I might as well have told him not to say hello to Jill because she’s old enough to be his mother.
It made that much sense, and yet I said it.
And he accepted it.
“Who should I date then?” he asked.
“Someone your own age, when you’re much, much, much older,” I said.
And we left it at that.